Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Raptor persecution.....a continuing shame!

Over the thirty or so years in which I've had an interest and concern about raptor persecution generally much has been said , many statistics have been trotted out and an increasing number of incidents taken to prosecution or reported on. The situation nowadays is no better than at the end of the 1970's, indeed, it would be very easy to conclude that it has got worse, which is most certainly my own view. At some point in the near future I intend putting out a background summary, based on one area, showing how much things have deteriorated.
Despite the best efforts of many, particularly the RSPB which, in staff time and resources alone, has put an appreciable proportion of  its funds into combating these shameful acts, the malpractice still persists, carried out by an arrogant and self-serving minority associated with game management who set themselves above the law. Whilst I currently live in Scotland, my abiding concern is with the situation in England and, in particular, with the ever diminishing population of Hen Harriers within the Forest of Bowland with which I had a nigh on twenty year involvement prior to my early retirement from RSPB..  The harrier population has contracted,  numbers less than 10 pairs, and is largely concentrated on the upland estate of the water utility company, United Utilities, who have a close "operating partnership" with the RSPB. Now don't run away with the idea that I personally and exclusively agree with the approach taken currently in the Bowland area, because I don't, as I feel it is insufficiently inclusive of the wider "collection" of estates which comprise the magnificent Forest of Bowland landmass. However, such disagreements are  best  resolved  "in house" or "within the family", a sentiment which I have always embraced and shall continue to believe in.

What I feel can be increasingly condemned is the arrant behaviour of the upland estates who feel they can divorce themselves away from the collective wishes of the electorate,  the requirements of the law and a recognition that they have a responsibility to nurture some of the most iconic members of our natural heritage.  These latter species, such as Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier , even have especial status under the provisions of Schedule 1, Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 ( as amended ). Now, I give you an analogy!!  If such upland estates were Trustees of our National Art Heritage and willingly and deliberately allowed the deterioration of our most treasured and beloved items within our cultural heritage to be damaged, lost and generally abused, what do you feel the outcome would be?  Uproar, public condemnation and a call for them to be brought to book.   More importantly, what do you think the implications for the self-serving incompetents would be in the sense of being allowed to continue in such positions of responsibility? And yet in the cause of commercial gain the persecution of raptors persists and a convenient blind eye is taken by many who could, if they wished, through peer pressure and condemnation , put paid to the dubious side of what is painted as a continuation of a romantic Victorian "pursuit". It is carried out to make money , very often with subsidies from the public purse being made available to manage areas given special status based on their suitability to play host to the very iconic species which are then removed. Nice one!!

Now all this might suggest the conservation charities, the police and others, even a proportion of the most responsible upland estates , are doing nothing. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Similarly, as is evidenced by a steady flow of court cases  linked to such incidents ( see Raptor Persecution Scotland's web site),  details of campaigns carried out to bring about changes in the law and so on, much is being done.  One thing that is sometimes evident is the absence of independent condemnation and action by the public, and sometimes, let it be said, by birders themselves!! Grumpy old man and ill constructed comments by all too regular contributors on websites are not action. They may make you feel better but have little effect.  So, with rightful indignation now in full flow, let me highlight a time when hopefully hackles can be raised and protest can flow unabated!!  As I  understand things DEFRA has asked the Law Commission to review inadequacies within wildlife legislation , with a report being issued mid year 2012. Doubtless many wildlife bodies will carefully scrutinise the details and recommendations, and either provide wholehearted support, or the opposite against any inadequacies. Clearly the circumstances attached to raptor persecution should figure prominently at that  point and a more precise situation suggested for the future.  If such is absent then all hell needs to be let loose on a Government, which has claimed will be the Greenest ever, and whose Leader ( David Cameron )  pledged, even as recently as last week, that he would offer as much protection as needed towards the countryside.   Unfortunately, it has to be said, the E-petition relating to raptor persecution,  and embodying a call for a  " vicarious liability " clause to be debated in Parliament, may have been a little pre-emptive in the light of the above, but it has until November this year to run. It certainly will do no harm to sign it now, but its time may yet really arrive in the middle of 2012!!!  Vicarious liability has already been approved, but not yet enacted, in Scotland and provides for upland estate owners to be considered for prosecution alongside their keeper(s) if incidents occur on their Estate.  In the event of blatant inadequacies appearing in the report anticipated from the Law Commission  then a period of intense action will be required.........be ready for it and don't fail the wildlife resource you love best!!!